If one of the ultimate aims of travel is to help us learn more about the world around us, then our recent trip to the West Bank was one of the most successful of our lives.
What we learnt over our three days in Bethlehem moved us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Staying directly in front of the hideous separation wall that divides the Palestinians and the Israelis, hearing the details of the violence that has been happening there almost daily for the past 70 years, and learning about how many lives, livelihoods and how much land has been lost along the way, almost broke our hearts.
But, in between the moments of heartache, there were moments of inspiration and great beauty. We left with hearts full of gratitude for being able to have travelled there at all.
While I would say you have to keep your ear to the ground while you’re there to make sure no violence has broken out, and while there is a big military presence there that can sometimes feel uncomfortable, we felt very safe the whole time. Safe, and welcomed by such warm people, a few of whom we know will be friends for life.
Which highlighted to us, once again, the extreme importance of seeing things with your own eyes. So that we can learn from what we see, and make up our own minds about the things that really matter in this world.
I want this post, rather than getting too political, to inspire you to get there yourself so that you can do just that. You can find my recommendations for your journey there below, along with my latest video.
The best part about the Walled Off Hotel, which is as much as protest statement as an art hotel created in collaboration with street artist Banksy, is that it brings travelers to the West Bank who might otherwise not have come. You may be lured by original Banksy art and the hotel’s fantastic design, but the main aim of the hotel is really to shed light on the Israeli occupation.
They have a very good museum that outlines the tragic history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Palestinian art gallery, and a ‘Wall Mart’ where you can buy stencils (say, ‘make hummus not war’) to spray onto the wall. Some have criticised the hotel for trivialising the conflict, but we found their methods engaging and activating.
EAT + DRINK
The Walled Off Hotel’s restaurant and colonial-themed piano bar, with its chesterfield sofas and wood paneling and proliferation of Banksy artworks, is now the most buzzing place in town. It does great pizzas and salads and mezze plates. Plus, ‘remote’ concerts recorded exclusively for the hotel are played on the automated pianola each night by Massive Attack, Trent Reznor from the Nine Inch Nails and more.
Our favourite dining spot, though, was Hosh Jasmin, an organic farm and restaurant set on a hilltop overlooking Bethlehem, surrounded by lush olive groves and orchards and with comfy couches set outside under the trees. It’s a fantastic spot to watch the sunset, the food was delicious, and they played beautiful Palestinian music. Oh, and don’t miss having a glass of the owner’s house-made arak.
Abu Eli was also great, a barbecue restaurant that has been around for over 40 years, where they cook the fresh meat in front of you.
If you only do one thing in the West Bank, let it be the tour the Walled Off Hotel runs twice daily of the separation wall and a nearby refugee camp. You’ll be taken along the 800-kilometre wall by a Palestinian, and told about its history and the effects it has on daily life, then to the Aida Refugee Camp, which has existed for the last 70 years since the Europeans first arrived in Palestine in 1948.
From the hotel, you can walk half an hour to Bethlehem’s less political attractions of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. In the surrounding laneways there is fantastic shopping, where you can find handwoven rugs, antique tea pots, Palestinian embroidered dresses and more.
The easiest way to get to the West Bank from Tel Aviv is to hire a private car; the drive is about two hours but be prepared to wait at the check points.
Find out more about travel to Palestine here.